re_grocery: rē•volutionizing Sustainable Shopping
rē•spin the concept of BYOC – Bring Your Own Containers
In the United States, approximately 30% of food in grocery stores is thrown away. Furthermore, 91% of plastic waste isn’t even recycled. This means most of the plastic we use and toss into the recycling bin goes straight to landfills. When browsing the aisles of your local grocery store, how often are you seeing seemingly unnecessary amounts of packaging? Or find yourself throwing out food in your home when you can’t finish your regular groceries? What if there was a better, less wasteful way to shop for all your essentials?
Lauren Macrino and her husband, Joseph, combined their passion for low-waste living, design, and food and beverage backgrounds to found re_ in 2020. re_ is a package-free grocery store in Los Angeles centered around three core pillars: rē-use, rē-fill, and rē-think. In addition, the shop provides rē-fillable bulk goods and plastic-free organic, non-GMO, clean products.
While Macrino and her husband were passionate about low-waste living, they struggled with grocery shopping and finding options aligned with their beliefs.
“We were frustrated with the lack of truly sustainable options and felt there was a real opportunity to create a whole store full of all the refillable products you could ever dream of,” Macrino tells rē•spin. “re_ is a holistic grocery experience that removes the need for plastic packaging altogether.”
Macrino had two goals for re_ when they founded the store: to make it easy and affordable for individuals to shop sustainably. The same type of bulk-style shopping is prevalent in her home country, Australia. So, she was motivated to rē-invent that concept in the United States and change how people grocery shop.
“Our mission from the beginning has been to make an impact that is greater than the two of us,” she explained. “We’ve had a lot of people visit that are new to this style of shopping and are excited and enthusiastic to make it part of their lives. It’s inspiring to see people embrace a simpler life—reconnecting with each other, with food, and with the planet.”
How bulk-style shopping works
re_ is not your everyday grocery shopping experience. Rather than wandering the store’s aisles for pre-packaged goods, the store has hundreds of glass jars filled with over 500 refillable products. The selection ranges from snacks, herbs, spices, and superfoods to bath and body products and cleaning supplies.
To shop, you will bring your containers from home to store the items you pick up from the store. You can also use the post-consumer recycled paper bags or glass jars and bottles available for purchase. The refillable containers will be weighed and tagged upon entering the store. This ensures you only pay for what you buy.
As you explore the aisles, you fill your containers with the items you need, write the product name or code, and head to the register when you’re finished. This process cuts down on buying food and household essentials that come in excessive amounts of packaging. It also helps reduce food and product waste. You get to choose your quantity of product versus what is pre-packaged for you.
The environmental benefits of shopping more sustainably
Shopping today leaves few sustainable options in traditional models. It’s difficult, if not impossible, to avoid plastic or bulky packaging that can’t be recycled and gets thrown out.
“It’s time to rethink how we shop for groceries,” Macrino explains. “Despite the difficulties of fighting for a plastic-free world, we believe change is possible. We’re here to show that making an active difference is as easy as choosing the right place to shop.”
Macrino tells rē•spin that thanks to re_’s community, over 250,000 items of packaging have been diverted from landfills. And that’s just since the store launched on Earth Day in April 2020. But, she adds, “This is just one store—imagine the reduction of waste at scale. Package-free grocery shopping is by weight, not by unit, so you can purchase as much or as little as you’d like, dramatically reducing food waste.”
re_’s stock is purchased in bulk and in large quantities so that the items are fresh, affordable, and sustainable for people to rē-use and rē-fill what they have at home already. But it’s not just about the waste from purchasing these pre-packaged items. It’s also about the behind-the-scenes waste generated by traditional packaging methods.
“We essentially want to eliminate the unnecessary step of portioning, individually packaging, and branding at a factory,” Macrino explains. “This adds time, expense, and waste. Instead of 67 12oz bags of product individually packaged in plastic, we source one 50lb paper bag of product that gets divided up by the customer into their own endlessly reusable containers.”
Starting your sustainable shopping journey
To start or even continue on our journey to living a more sustainable life, Macrino emphasizes that we first must be mindful of where we fit in the broader ecosystem. What is good for us? What is good for the planet?
“Everything has an impact on everything else,” she says. “If you are consuming something, and you know where it has come from, its true value, its journey to you–it feels good and positively impacts all involved. But equally important is knowing where a product will go once you are finished with it—its continued impact. If you have the privilege of making a choice, sustainability is being mindful that your choices are important, impactful, and far-reaching.”
When translating these sustainable practices into your own life, Macrino preaches progress over perfection. Not everything about the way you live needs to be changed immediately. Instead, she recommends starting simple and being easy on yourself. But above all, be mindful of what you’re disposing of each day too.
“Every week, try to eliminate one of those things,” she says. “Reuse what you already have first, but little swaps as you run out of things make huge impacts over a lifetime. Replace your disposable razors for a lifetime reusable one, refill your dish soap instead of buying a new plastic bottle, grocery shop package-free, or at a farmer’s market if it’s available to you. Before you know it, it becomes a lifestyle you couldn’t imagine going back.”